By Todd Barron @ FoodieCuisine.com
How do you celebrate a birthday? Why, with a family feast of Italian food of course! In my family that’s how it’s normally done at least and history repeated itself last month for my step-father’s birthday. My mother, step-father, wife, and son (the oldest was away at college) all met at Carino’s Italian Kitchen in Little Rock for good company, good food, and good times.
It was a very cold night by Arkansas standards (19 degrees) so we rushed inside upon arrival. Carino’s Italian Kitchen is a chain restaurant and is not someplace I would typically eat at but my family likes it and I’ve had good experiences there in the past. The rest of our party was waiting for us and we were seated immediately in the middle-front of the restaurant, surrounded by tables and booths.
Carino’s has a dark-wood décor with an open architecture where you can see the entire restaurant and the open kitchen in the back. It feels very casual and open but also has a welcoming quality to it. I enjoy the ability to watch the kitchen in action and you can sit close to it for a better view if you want. It also feels like a chain, which can be a problem if you are looking for an intimate dinner. Given our festive situation though, the atmosphere wasn’t a concern.
Our waiter arrived quickly and was very friendly in taking our orders. We ordered the fried mozzarella ($6.99) and the stuffed mushrooms ($7.99) for appetizers and I opted for the braised short-ribs with pasta ($15.99) for my entrée.
The appetizers came out relatively quickly and looked as expected. The stuffed mushrooms were packed nicely with spinach, parmesan, onions, garlic, and were baked in a flavorful lemon basil cream sauce. One of them was cold in the center but they weren’t molten hot on the outside. This tells me that they were baked and not micro-waved but were just not baked long enough. Overall the mushrooms were very tasty.
The mozzarella sticks had a decent marinara sauce to dip them in but were over-fried and heavy. I realize that mozzarella sticks by definition are not light but for this appetizer you could only taste the fried batter and not much else. They may be decent for kids as my son liked them quite a bit.
We were all having a good time talking about family, friends, and other stuff but started to notice those around us leaving and being replaced by new tables. How could this be? People who showed up after us had received their food, eaten, left, and been replaced by new people. Over an hour had passed since our appetizers first arrived so we summoned our waiter to find out what was going on. That is, we summoned him after we finally located him. Something had gone obviously wrong in the kitchen, with or order, or both, but they resolved the issue and our food finally arrived.
My braised short ribs were boneless as promised and topped with julienned sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, and spices. I attempted to cut into the first piece of beef with my fork but it stubbornly bounced back. Typically braised meat will fall apart but that was not the case here.
Undeterred I broke out my knife and cut into the meat, or tried to at least. It was rubbery to cut into as well and resisted my attempts until I added a lot of pressure. I finally sawed through the meat and tried a bite. Mmm, it tasted very good which was surprising. Given how tough it was I didn’t think it would taste good but it did!
Someone created a decent recipe but the cooks had failed to deliver on the execution. If the meat had been braised for 3-4 hours I think it would have been great. Unfortunately, they didn’t cook it enough and it suffered as a result. You can also see in the photo I took large pieces of fat present. In a proper braising the fat would have rendered out leaving nothing but tasty meat. Ah well, it did taste very good at least!
Overall it was a fun celebration and I really enjoyed the company. I can’t say the same about the food but am willing to give it another chance down the road.
W. Little Rock
11600 Pleasant Ridge Rd.
Little Rock, AR 72223